Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  

Opinion: Face transplant patient had right to decide

Some people find my refusal to be a champion of some causes they consider progressive perplexing. Despite my reservations about the death penalty, I will not be joining protests against the pending execution of Bloods founder, Stanley "Tookie" Williams. I would support a life sentence, if he would agree to stop posturing as a 'hero' in return. Ditto for environmental radical Michael Scarpitti (Tre Arrow) who is fighting extradition from Canada to the United States to face conspiracy charges in regard to firebombing a car dealership. His blathering about Mother Earth and Papa Sea doesn't impress me at all. Increasingly, I find myself looking at the militant activists in the disability movement with a jaundiced eye, too.

I'm thinking about the subject because of a history making operation made public this week. A French woman received the world's first partial face transplant.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

The same doctor who beat Louisville surgeons to perform the world's first successful hand transplant in 1998 has announced that his team conducted the world's first partial face transplant in France on Sunday.

The French team said it grafted a nose, lips and chin onto a 38-year-old woman who had been disfigured by a dog bite.

The patient, who was not identified, is in excellent condition and the transplanted organs look normal, according to a joint statement from a hospital in Amiens, where the operation was performed, and another hospital in Lyon, where the doctors are based.

The organs were taken from a donor who was brain-dead, with that family's consent, according to an Associated Press report.

Dr. Jean-Michael Dubernard, the co-head of the French team, also led the doctors who performed the first hand and forearm transplant in September 1998, edging out a Jewish Hospital-University of Louisville team that was poised to do such a procedure.

The patient, who was unable to breathe properly or eat normally, believed that her quality of life was unacceptable without the surgery. She made an informed decision to risk a new operation that may fail. I support her right to make that decision. If the word "autonomy" has any meaning, this circumstance should be one in which it applies.

Radical disability activists will disagree. The bedrock of their argument will be that there was nothing wrong with the woman. She's wasn't critically disfigured, just "differently abled." In reality, people who are significantly disabled have lost abilities that can't be replaced. Sometimes there are somewhat adequate workarounds, sometimes not. The refusal of these activists to acknowledge the reality of significant disability is perverse and makes intelligent dialogue with them pretty much impossible.

The nadir of their position may have been reached during the Terri Schiavo saga. Militant disability movement members joined Right to Life activists in deeming Schiavo merely incapacitated. They claimed that she would recover with rehabilitation therapy. You may recall that autopsy results confirming that Schiavo's life effectively ended at the time of her collapse, and that her brain had atrophied to half normal size, made no difference to those who who opposed ending life support after 15 years. Extremist disability activists were among them.

Another disingenuous aspect of the radical arm of the disability rights movement is its determination to dictate to others about what medical options they may have. The most vocal of them, Not Dead Yet, opposes both testing of fetuses to identify genetic disorders, and assisted suicide. Its members will decide who will be born and when they can die instead. I don't believe being disabled gives anyone the right to determine quality of life issues for pregnant women or other disabled people. Seems to be that the radicals' belief that they are specially endowed to make such determinations falls back on the ridiculous stereotype of the handicapped as being more virtuous than others.

The patient who received the face transplant has chosen to keep her identity confidential. Considering the mud that would be flung at her by the radicals of the disability rights movement, that is a wise decision.

posted by J. | 6:15 PM